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Oklahoma leaders address concerns of federal relief, 'market manipulation' with energy bills following winter storm

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Gov. Kevin Stitt

Gov. Kevin Stitt speaks during a press conference Nov. 16, 2020. 

Oklahoma’s Secretary of Energy and Environment Kenneth Wagner said the “vast majority” of Oklahomans will not see a “dramatic increase” in their energy bills following last week’s winter storm in a Tuesday press conference.

Wagner said energy bills will “reflect proportionally” residents’ amount of increased usage during the storm.

Wagner said the Oklahoma legislature is “seeking relief” from federal partners, including large, regulated electric providers like Oklahoma Gas and Electric Company and large gas providers like Oklahoma Natural Gas and Centerpoint. He said it will also include unregulated Rural Electric Cooperative customers and communities with power provided by the Oklahoma Municipal Power Authority and the Grand River Dam Authority.

Wagner said the legislature doesn’t know the potential impact on energy bills for the “small section” of municipal customers receiving gas from non-regulated gas providers.

“If you have a municipality with its own utility — a city or town — (then) we don't know who they have their gas provided from, we don't regulate that on a rate basis and they don't report to us in that way,” Wagner said. “In those instances, we would ask that you contact your city provider to get more guidance.”

Director of Oklahoma Emergency Management Mark Gower said OEM is working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the White House to request additional assistance for Oklahomans following last week’s winter weather.

Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter said there is evidence of “market manipulation.” He said entities have “taken advantage of the suffering of Oklahomans.”

Wagner said the significant rise of gas prices on Friday morning was the “first evidence” of market manipulation. He said prices were spiking before the “supply problem” in Oklahoma based on the curtailment of production due to the winter storm.

“On Friday, we called every utility … to make sure we understood that we were good from an energy perspective,” Wagner said. “We see evidence of (market manipulation) by the fact that (Southwest Power Pool) remained in a conservative operation.”

Gower said Oklahomans should report their winter storm damage and other related impacts in a survey. He said types of reportable damage include flooding from broken pipes, power surges that caused damages to furnaces, electrical systems or major appliances, number of days without water, gas or electricity, the number of days one has been displaced by the storm and injuries sustained due to the storm.

Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt said he met with President Joe Biden last week and “made sure he knew” of utility bill challenges facing Oklahoma. Stitt said Biden “pledged the federal government's support.”

On Feb. 18, Biden approved an emergency declaration for Oklahoma offering “federal assistance to supplement state, tribal, and local response efforts due to the emergency conditions” due to the winter storm.

“First we dealt with snow removal and rolling power outages, and now we are dealing with issues at our water treatment plant which will affect our water supply,” Norman Mayor Breea Clark said in an email. “Any support we can get from the state and federal government will be greatly appreciated and can’t come soon enough.”

Stitt said he’ll be traveling to Washington, D.C. tomorrow and Wednesday to meet with federal delegation to “make sure” Oklahomans have available resources.

“We're going to get through this,” Stitt said. “We're going to do everything we can to help Oklahoma families get through it, and we're going to get to the bottom of what happened and make sure this doesn't happen again to the state of Oklahoma.”

Alexia Aston joined The Daily in the fall of 2020 as a news reporter. Alexia is a journalism major from Clinton, Oklahoma.

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